By Zachariah Smith
“Books can be dangerous. The best ones should be labeled ‘This could change your life.’” – Helen Exley
I was in my early twenties and I had just ended another promising relationship. The quintessential puzzle pieces for courtship success were there, but I was too busy enjoying my self-centered life to complete the puzzle. Even if you are the heartbreaker, you can’t avoid the proverbial time vacuum that envelopes you when a large portion of your usual routine is turned on its head. I now had a mass of time in which I eagerly needed to fill.
I have always been an avid reader; it’s like Legos for adults, it cultivates the mind and ignites the imagination. I knew of a used bookstore downtown and decided to take a mid-afternoon trek to fill some of my abundant time. The shop was an eclectic mix of post-it notes directing consumer traffic and stale air unique only to old books and nursing homes. I wandered the aisles occasionally flipping through topics of interest, but soon realized this endeavor was not shaving off much of my day. Suddenly, I turned a corner and found myself in a U-shaped corridor brimming with self-help books. Help with divorce? Check. Should I spank my kids? Check. Conquer Stress-induced Depression? Check. It was a bookstore’s pharmacy for the modern-day self-help seeker. And since I was coming off a recent end to an otherwise healthy relationship I thought I may need to tweak my mindset…so I began to browse.
I stood in the section for quite awhile skimming chapters and digesting small bits of insight here and there. At the bottom of one shelf I happened upon a book on the topic of intimacy. Not a subject you talk about around the dinner table, so I was intrigued enough to give it a peek. I opened the book to the first chapter and began to skim, which then lead to actual reading and interest. After fully reading a few paragraphs into the book I slowly looked up from the pages and gazed around the room wondering if I was in the middle of a very, very elaborate ruse. The first chapter spoke to me as if the book was written just for me. The title should have just read “Written for Zachariah—you’re welcome.” I promptly bought the book and spent the rest of my day reading it cover to cover.
I can’t think of any other time in my life where a book had such an immediate impact. It changed my perspective on not only how I live my life, but how I treat others and plan for my own success. One of the overarching questions in the book is: What is the purpose of life? Not exactly a “softball” question. By this point I was more intrigued by every turning page, hoping that a golden goose would soon fly from the pages and set me on a course for excess happiness and purpose! Very short of that, the author answered the question by simply stating the purpose of life is to become the best-version-of-yourself…emotionally, spiritually, physically, and intellectually. Not an earth shattering concept, but I had never framed my life in the context of always making sure I was becoming the best-version-of-myself. I have talents, ambition, and an unquenchable thirst for getting the most out of life, but never really harnessed those life attributes into a devoted purpose.
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Today, I always find myself thinking about how I can become the best-version-of-me. Be it learning a new hobby, reading a great book, volunteering for a cause I support, meeting new people, getting in a great workout, counseling a friend, laughing off some stress, or reflecting on how I can continue my own personal success, I always think about my purpose…my story.
I don’t feel like I really matured until my post-college years. Before you find true independence you grow up in a bubble of sorts, always having a structure to follow, be it high school, college, youth group, fraternity/sorority, interest club, or living at home. But you don’t fully understand what life is until that structure begins to fade and you transition into a life of full-time work weeks, bills, life drama, disappointments, missed opportunities, budget constraints, student loan payback, quarter-life dating, and every other detail that makes up your daily trek. Life can punch you square in the face if you aren’t prepared. What I love about my story of finding a simple purpose is that with all the “real” life struggles that make up my days, I always know every opportunity I encounter can help me become a better version of me. Traffic is terrible, work on patience. Work is unfulfilling, cultivate a new skill. Relationships are strained, reflect and reconcile. Short on cash, learn to budget. Life seems dull, find a passion. Weekend is free, enjoy a hobby. Loneliness creeping in, meet new people.
Life is a participatory activity, not a passive venture.